I Saw Nolan Ryan Pitch

Since it seems to be fashionable to have Throwback days on Facebook and other social sites, consider this throwback I found while going through papers not too long ago. It was written while I was on the Wichitan (Midwestern State University’s newspaper) staff in October, 1990 — 23 years ago! It was printed on pin-feed paper by a dot-matrix printer. I made a 95 on it. 

Nolan’s name may not yet be said with the same reverence as Lou Gehrig and company, but he is still a respected name in the game. At the time, he had thrown six no-hitters. He went on to throw one more for the Rangers on May 1, 1991. This was written when Ryan fever was hot. Fans kept cards with K’s on them for all his strikeouts. He had thrown his sixth no-hitter in June, just months before we saw him.

I may not write quite the same now, some things I would have done differently, but still, I’m glad I documented the occasion.

 

I saw Nolan Ryan pitch.

Years from now, I’ll be telling this to my grandchildren and my kids will be telling it to their grandchildren. His name will be used in the same breath with other baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Cy Young and Ty Cobb.

It was hot. Whiny kids say behind us. Drunk people who knew everything sat in front of us. It cost $2.25 for a big cup of ice. But that’s OK.

I saw Nolan Ryan pitch.

It wasn’t a great game. It didn’t have constant thrills, but few baseball games do. The Rangers didn’t hit any home runs. They didn’t even hit any foul balls our way to catch. They lost 4-3 to the Oakland A’s. But that’s OK.

I saw Nolan Ryan pitch.

It was the last home game of the season for the Rangers. Since it was “Fan Appreciation Day,” Ranger management changed the pitching rotation so Ryan could pitch one more time for the home crowd.

He had 11 strikeouts and gave up two hits. He left the game in the eighth inning. The Rangers used three more pitchers and gave three more runs after Ryan left.

One Ryan pitch hit Oakland outfielder Doug Jennings. Not sure what Jennings said or did next, but Ryan left the mound and headed straight for Jennings as he trotted to first base. The benches emptied onto the field, but no fists flew. Ryan looked calm the whole time. Umpires talked to everyone. Managers talked to umpires. Players all patted Ryan on the rear as he returned to the mound and the game resumed. 

The next time Jennings was up to bat, the crowd yelled, “Hit him again!” Ryan’s first pitch flew by. Jennings didn’t move. The umpire signaled a strike.

The second pitch was a ball, close and inside — so close that Jennings had to suck his middle way in and jump back. That was Ryan telling Jennings he could hit him again if he wanted to. The crowd loved it. Jennings hit the next pitch, but it was an easy out at first.

When Jennings came up to bat again, the crowd still wanted blood. “Hit him again!” “Fan ’im, Nolan!”

The first pitch was a high ball. Jennings swung and tipped the next throw. “Strike one,” the umpire yelled. The third pitch breezed by Jennings. The umpire gave his signal and called, “Strike!” Jennings gave the ump a look and raised his hands in disbelief. He clenched his bat, pounded the plate then raised the bat to his shoulder. Ryan let the next pitch go. Jennings dug in and swung hard. “Stee-rike three!” the ump yelled, wringing Jennings out with the hand signal.

The mighty Ryan struck him out.

What makes Ryan so mighty?

He threw his sixth no-hitter June 11. He won his 300th game July 31. Only 19 other pitchers in the history of baseball have done that. (note — Only four have reached that mark since.)

On Aug. 22, 1989, he struck out his 5,000th batter. Now his count is at 5,308. No one else even comes close to this record, past or present. (note — 23 years later, that’s still true! His record stands at 5,714.)

We watched win number 300 win on TV. Ryan sat in the dugout with his sons. After the game he chose to walk off the field with them. Choosing the company of family at a time when it would have been easy to bask in the lights makes him special to me.

I feel something in common with Nolan Ryan. He is a middle-aged man in a game where youth dominates. That’s what the college experience is for me. I’m “old” and most everyone else is young. Ryan makes me remember that youth isn’t always a sign of strength or superiority. He’s the best at what he does partly because of his age and experience.

That makes me realize that I’m not an inferior student because I’m older. I can still play the game.

Sometimes I get impatient because I’ve been playing the college game so long. I want  my happiness now, my success now. I want to finish school now. I want it all now.

Ryan’s statistics are the result of more than 20 years of baseball. His first win was April 14, 1968. He built his numbers up game by game, strikeout by strikeout. All the stats didn’t mount up overnight.

Nothing good comes in a flash. The things that matter take work. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Some criticize Ryan for all his commercial endorsements. Maybe they’re valid complaints. Maybe he’s planning for his and his family’s future. Right now, I don’t care.

Because I saw Nolan Ryan pitch.

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